QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT

QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT By Quilt Historian Barbara Brackman Above: Moda's Baltimore Blues. It's not all blue.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Eagles and Their Source?

Eagle applique by Helen Gilchrist Ferris (1831-1912)
Illinois State Museum Collection.
http://www.museum.state.il.us/muslink/art/htmls/ks_gilchrist.html

In the last post I showed this quilt and five others
with similar, rather primitive eagles.


Four of the five seemed to have an East Coast connection from New Jersey to 
Massachusetts but the fifth, Helen Gilchrist Ferris's medallion
is in an Illinois museum, donated by a Wisconsin family in 1966.

The Illinois State Museum has good family records about their version of this quilt. It was said to be  made by Helen Gilchrist before her marriage to Leonard Thompson Ferris in 1850.

Helen's parents Minerva Holton Gilchrist and Charles Grandison Gilchrist.

The Museum has several sites with information about the quilt:
"Helen Gilchrist was born in VT and came to Hill's Grove, IL, with her parents in 1837. From 1843 to 1849 she went to a school for young ladies in NY operated by her aunt, Miriam Holten, and this quilt was probably made while she was at school. When she returned to IL she married Leonard T. Ferris in 1850 and moved with him to Fountain Grove, {Green] Hancock Co., IL, where she lived the rest of her life." 
"One of the skills that Helen learned in her studies to become a good wife and mother, was sewing. She cut and sewed these appliqué designs onto a large piece of cloth...."

The basket at the top is from
the Garrison family quilt in Massachusetts.
The urn is from Helen's quilt:
Similar striped floral containers.

The family history that Helen stitched this applique eagle at her boarding school in New York could explain the similarities in several quilts. One might guess the needlework teacher shared her pattern with the students---who might have come from New Jersey and Massachusetts and gone home with similar quilts.

Fortunately, the family mentioned that Helen's aunt, Minerva's sister Miriam Holton, ran the boarding school, described in a story written by Helen's daughter as a "Select Boarding and Day School for Young Ladies."  .



Longworth's American Almanac & New York Register in 1839 lists a Miriam Holton running a boarding and day school for young ladies at 11 Amity and living with her brother Physician David P Holton.

Girls and teachers in an unknown school about 1860.

Women's education included an emphasis on needlework and one would expect girls to come home with beautifully designed and executed pictures, clothing and patchwork.

Embroidered cross-stitch sampler signed Susan Stevens Kennedy,
1821, with an eagle and 22 stars

 All the eagle quilts in question do not seem to fit that criteria.

One might want daughter's tuition returned.

However, one can imagine a rather loose curriculum where the students were encouraged to follow their own artistic directions with the eagle design---a progressive school so to speak.

And this is something one might expect of Miss Miriam Holton who was interested in many things, the antislavery movement, girls' education, public health, gynecology and genealogy. In her will she left $2,000 to her brother David to document the family thoroughly, which means we get more than a glimpse of Aunt Miriam and her school.

The Limerick Academy in Maine about 1910.
Miriam went to school at an earlier building.

Miriam Holton was born in Westminster, Vermont, on October 31, 1807. She received an education herself, attending the Academy in Limerick Maine, over a hundred miles from her home in 1830, and thereafter taught schools in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, according to her brother's account. Brother David Holton also taught while he studied medicine in New York City.

 In 1836 he asked Miriam to come to New York with an eye to opening a school on Amity Street in Greenwich Village (now West 3rd Street). In his autobiography her brother wrote:
"As a preliminary step to success in a city establishment, she taught awhile, in 1836, at Mrs. Starr's school for young ladies, 96 Madison street, and the next spring, without special patronage or promise from any one, she opened a school at 18 Amity street, beginning with one pupil. At the close of the first week she had six, and the number rapidly increased, until at the August vacation she had about thirty.
 "On commencing her fall term, she found her rooms too small, and one morning she and her brother were gratified to see, diagonally across the way, a bill on No. 11 Amity street, "To Let." Thither her school was forthwith removed to more ample quarters, and there, for six years, were accommodated from 60 to 125 boarding and day scholars."

I am guessing the school was at the corner of West 3rd Street
and Mercer Streets in Greenwich Village.

The curriculum included music from innovative singing teacher Thomas Hastings and a good deal of health and hygiene from the Doctor. 

This ad for an abdominal supporter for the cure of uterine affections, etc. indicates that M. Holton of 11 Amity Street invented the device. She and her physician brother were also boarding patients at the school and the dormitory around the corner on Mercer Street.


American Institute Fair at Niblo's Garden by B. J. Harrison, about 1845.

 Collection of the Museum of the City of New York.
Quilts were shown at these fairs too.

The ad indicates the medical device won a prize at the 1846 fair sponsored by New York's American Institute and indeed M. Holton is recorded as winning a diploma for a "spino-abdominal supporter".

In 1855 Miriam married Dr. Henry Smith Brown (1809-1890), and presumably gave up her school.

Detail from Helen's quilt

Fate took Miriam to the U.S. Senate on May 22, 1856. 

Representative Brooks about to cane Senator Sumner

She was one of a few ladies in the room when Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina  entered and seated himself near Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts who was working at his desk. Like Miriam Holton Brown, Sumner was antislavery. He had recently delivered a vituperative speech blaming Southern senators and, in particular, Brooks's relative Andrew Butler for maintaining slavery.

According to Sumner biographer Walter Gaston Shotwell, Brooks noticed "a lady present, he asked an officer of the Senate to get her out, but the officer seeing no reason for doing so declined." Brooks returned to Sumner's desk and began beating him severely with his cane.

Miriam's brother David maintained that she was that lady. At the time Sumner was "smitten down by Brooks...Mrs. B. was occupying a position near the distinguished Senator. With characteristic fearlessness in emergencies she first sprang to the rescue."

In the 1850s David and Miriam visited land they had bought in Waterville, Wisconsin. There are records of Miriam and her husband living in Milwaukee and it seems they had become westerners, although they traveled quite a bit.
  
When the Civil War broke out in 1861 David Holton and Miriam Holton Brown helped organize the Institute of  Reward for Orphans of Patriots. They were initially concerned with housing children orphaned by the war but also advocated public education into hygiene. As the orphaned children grew the Institute transferred efforts to funding college scholarships for them (both boys and girls).

The Gilchrist farm at Hillsgrove, Illinois

While visiting in Illinois Miriam suffered an attack of malaria and died in November, 1865 at the age of 58. Her family described her as "a woman of very superior endowment, knowledge of human nature, great penetration of motives and character, and independent judgment... and was very tenacious of her generally well-founded opinions. She held in abomination the institution of slavery."

Helen Gilchrist also attended an academy in Westport in Essex County, New York
according to this family genealogy 

Detail of Helen Gilchrist's quilt
So it may be that she learned to stitch and received patterns at another school.
But she must have learned quite a bit of something at Aunt Miriam's Greenwich Village school.

7 comments:

The Civil War Quilter said...

Great post! Not sure when it happened,but the town of Fountain Grove in Hancock County, IL has for as long as I can remember been Fountain Green. It's a tiny little town now, but may have once been a thriving community. I was born and raised in nearby Dallas City, founded in 1858, also Hancock County.

Barbara Brackman said...

I'm having a lot of trouble with geography lately. I bet CWQuilter is right and it's Fountain Green---a typo on somebody's part. I fixed it. Thanks CWQ!

Maggey and Jim said...

I enjoy your emails on quilt history so much. Thank you for all your research, it is so interesting reading about these women of our past. Amazing also of the work they accomplished with minimal tools.

Alice Cooksey said...

Thank you for the story of this amazing woman: quilter, teacher, and activist. I loved her story. The quilts are also fantastic

Suzanne A said...

Barbara et al., the Illinois State Museum has let staff go and closed it's doors September 30 2015 due to state legislators failure to fund it. They have done a lot with quilts (including an amazing Amish collection and book) and this is distressing. Whether the closure is permanent or not is undetermined. Besides maintaining their collection the Museum seemed to offer a number of worthwhile community outreach programs that included bringing children into the Museum for art and cultural activities, something we need more of. Sometimes politicians are tragically blind. I don't know if it matters to them what out-of-state people think, but we can visit their page on Facebook: Save the Illinois State Museum and sign a petition or call the Governor.

Suzanne A said...

Barbara et al., the Illinois State Museum has let staff go and closed it's doors September 30 2015 due to state legislators failure to fund it. They have done a lot with quilts (including an amazing Amish collection and book) and this is distressing. Whether the closure is permanent or not is undetermined. Besides maintaining their collection the Museum seemed to offer a number of worthwhile community outreach programs that included bringing children into the Museum for art and cultural activities, something we need more of. Sometimes politicians are tragically blind. I don't know if it matters to them what out-of-state people think, but we can visit their page on Facebook: Save the Illinois State Museum and sign a petition or call the Governor.

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